Andrea Roman Alfaro

Andrea Roman Alfaro (she/her)
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Sociology
University of Toronto

Current Project:

The People’s Pantry

The People’s Pantry is a mutual aid food justice initiative launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. It is a volunteer-run, grassroots initiative providing home-cooked meals and groceries to individuals and families across the GTA who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Particularly hard-hit communities include, but are not limited to, QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans*, Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour), single parents, sex workers, those living in precarious housing situations, those living with underlying medical conditions, those with disabilities, newly-arrived immigrants, and the elderly.

The People’s Pantry serves those struggling financially or are otherwise unable to provide sufficient food for themselves and their family. Meals are delivered right to requesters’ doors, free of charge. In the past year, they have delivered more than 15,000 meals and 3,000 grocery packages to communities all over the GTA. They also collaborate with other important organizations and initiatives to promote anti-racism, anti-colonialism, social justice, and equity.

What impact do you think the project will have? 

The People’s Pantry builds on the shoulders of a long tradition of community organizing around food justice initiated by Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities. As a person of colour, supporting our communities and ensuring we survive and resist the capitalist, colonial, white supremacist system together has always been part of how we live. The People’s Pantry is a horizontal, community organization that considers people’s needs while keeping a balance that protects people’s mental, emotional, and physical health. A lot of strategies have been put in place to do the work we do.

The work we do shows how food insecurity is an issue even in one of the wealthiest cities in North America. It highlights the need to ensure public services provide healthy food that is adjusted to people’s needs. We believe that community work, collaboration, and solidarity, not charity, are essential to guarantee people’s access to what they need to thrive. Collectively, we resist and fight against violence. Food insecurity is violent. As such, food justice is political. We believe that building community support is essential to create otherwise possibilities that don’t rely on the willingness of capitalist, colonial states.

What was your motivation to pursue this project? 

Since I arrived in Toronto in 2017, I have tried to continue my organizing work by contributing to the communities where I belong. I have been an active leader in CUPE 3902 for the past 3 years and part of the executive board of the student association of my department. When the pandemic hit, I began mobilizing inside of CUPE 3902 to respond to the needs of international students/workers and organized a U of T graduate student town hall to coordinate action within the departments to ask the university to respond to the crisis.

On March 14, 2020, I saw a post made by Ellie Ade Kur and Yann Gracia in the Toronto Caremongering Facebook Group about cooking meals for those who needed it. I knew Ellie from activism in the university, so I reached out and joined efforts. It was then that together with Ellie, Yann, Jade Da Costa, Paul Pritchard, and Michelle Huang, we began what is now known as The People’s Pantry.

I come from a country with a long tradition of food security mobilization. In Peru, community kitchens are a staple grassroots organization in many low-income and marginalized urban neighbourhoods. Community kitchens are a women-led communal response to structural violence grounded on the need to see the community survive and thrive. I see The People’s Pantry as a continuation of that work that I have learned from.

What have you found surprising or challenging in the project? 

The People’s Pantry has been a lot of rewarding hard work. One of the most surprising experiences has been the need for mutual aid organizations like The People’s Pantry. We are always short of hands, money, and time to support everyone who needs support. However, it has also been surprising to see how the Toronto community has mobilized to make The People’s Pantry possible and continue its work.

The most challenging part of the work has been doing all the work while keeping myself healthy and stable. Doing the Ph.D. and at the same time managing an organization that has more than 300 volunteers and a team of 30 logistic coordinators is hard work. It requires setting up boundaries when needed and working long hours during the weekends (when the weekdays are not enough) to ensure we do the job well.

Andrea’s advice to other graduate students: 

Please, do not to be afraid of doing the work. You will make mistakes. You will feel that you’re “falling behind” in your Ph.D. career or not doing enough. It might seem like academia isn’t a supportive space to do activism and political work. However, one of the most rewarding experiences has been to learn how my research and my life experiences are connected to the work I am doing right now (even if it doesn’t seem like it for others). As I mentioned, The People’s Pantry is a communal response to structural violence. It has taught me about problems, but also about the alternatives to fight these problems. In sociology, there is a lot of discussion about problems and not enough talk about hope, resistance, and refusal. The People’s Pantry teaches me about both things. It reminds me why I chose sociology and how to put sociology and the privileges that come with academia to the service of community.

Media Coverage:

Da Costa, Jade and Andrea Roman Alfaro. 2021. “Ep. 007 – The People’s Pantry.” The Atlas of Resistance. April 12. Available at: https://atlasofresistance.org/e/ep-007-the-peoples-pantry-397d71f1c9fd24/

Acquisto, Stella. 2020. “The Peoples Pantry is Helping Combat Food Insecurity.” CityNews Toronto, July 28. Available at: https://toronto.citynews.ca/video/2020/07/28/peoples-pantry-helping-combat-food-insecurity/

Aksich, Caroline et. al. 2020. “Reasons to Love Toronto. No. 1: Because our home chefs are feeding the hungry.” Toronto Life. October 20. Available at: https://torontolife.com/life/no-1-because-our-home-chefs-are-feeding-the-hungry/

Donato, Al. 2020. “‘The People’s Pantry’ Gives Free Food to Torontonians Experiencing Food Insecurity.” HuffPost Canada. June 3. Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/peoples-pantry-free-food-toronto_ca_5ed163a2c5b64d62dd502851

Klassen, Sherri. 2020. “Sociology students build grassroots volunteer-run initiative to help those in need during COVID-19 pandemic.” April. Available at: https://sociology.utoronto.ca/sociology-students-build-grassroots-volunteer-run-initiative-to-help-those-in-need-during-covid-19-pandemic/

Morrison, Lyndsay. 2020. “’Food is Love’: Volunteers look to continue feeding Toronto with ‘The People’s Pantry’.” Toronto, October 14. Available at: https://toronto.ctvnews.ca/food-is-love-volunteers-look-to-continue-feeding-toronto-with-the-people-s-pantry-1.5145374

Speigel, Eli. 2021. “The People’s Pantry: A Documentary.” Available at: https://vimeo.com/461246686

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